First thought: The choice of the next FBI director carries too much freight in the middle of the investigation into possible Russian interference and collusion in the previous election to pick a partisan politician to replace James Comey. Second thought: No one on Capitol Hill is crazy enough to take it after watching the White House over the last week.
Right now, I’d say Door #1 looks like the best public explanation, but Door #2 might be the subtext for this reaction to the John Cornyn trial balloon:
There is a growing obstacle standing in the way of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) becoming the next director of the FBI — his own Republican colleagues.
Led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a chorus of GOP senators has signaled that they would prefer President Trump to nominate somebody other than the second-ranking Republican senator, despite his status as a well-liked and influential figure on Capitol Hill.
The Washington Post’s round-up of reactions from fellow Senate Republicans focus mainly on Cornyn’s value to the Republican legislative agenda and leadership. Tillis jokes that he’d like to say that Cornyn’s a “terrible person” in order to keep him from getting the job because he’d “hate to lose him” in the Senate. Most of the concern, though, focuses on the meltdown that would take place if a Trump defender took over for Comey, especially given the acute circumstances:
Among other concerns, some fear that nominating a top political leader would roil a confirmation process in which Democrats are already emboldened to cry foul over former director James B. Comey’s abrupt firing. Since Trump’s inauguration, Cornyn has been a loyal defender of the president — including on the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, which have been looking at the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
“I told him I thought he’d be a good FBI director under normal circumstances,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview. “But I think the politics of this is just — he gets it. He’d be an outstanding FBI director. But I just, quite frankly, think that last week made it tough.”
According to the Post, the list of skeptics includes Mitch McConnell, which is especially relevant. McConnell would be the man who would push a Trump nominee through to confirmation, and his hesitancy would be a red flag to the White House. That’s doubly true given McConnell’s close collaboration with Cornyn, who currently serves as Senate whip. Is McConnell signaling a no-go because of the political situation, or because he wants his colleague to avoid a potential trap by crossing Pennsylvania Avenue? It might be both, but either explanation works.
The same holds true for Rep. Trey Gowdy, who took himself out of contention for the job yesterday afternoon, just as the latest crisis erupted at the White House:
Our country deserves a Director w/ not only impeccable credentials but also one who can unite the country as we strive for justice & truth. pic.twitter.com/SZIXbfmSOo
— Trey Gowdy (@TGowdySC) May 15, 2017
Gowdy, a former prosecutor, had a pretty good background for the job … under normal circumstances, as Graham noted with Cornyn. These are not normal circumstances, and given the meltdowns at the White House over the last seven days, normal circumstances might not be returning for a while. At least in the short run, the Trump administration needs to nominate someone who has enough independence from Trump and the GOP to make a credible FBI director and to take the partisan sting out of Comey’s abrupt dismissal. That’s the Door #1 imperative, and that excludes every elected Republican official, those who have retired from public office, and all those who have acted as formal or informal surrogates for Trump in the media, too.
As far as Door #2 goes, the challenge will be to find someone who’ll take the job at all, and of that subset of candidates, someone who Trump would back. Of the eight that have been interviewed, four appear to at least meet the Door #1 standard: federal Judge Henry Hudson, Fran Townsend, former DoJ official Alice Fisher, and former US attorney Michael Garcia. Hudson ruled against the individual mandate in ObamaCare but otherwise seems to have little controversy in his judicial career, but his decision to go after Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge while director of the US Marshals Service might make for a rather spicy confirmation hearing.
Fran Townsend might be the best candidate of the bunch, having served both the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations at the Department of Justice and national-security efforts. She’d would be presumably willing to take the job after having interviewed for it, but has enough bipartisan clout in Washington to ensure she could remain independent of Trump. We’ll see if Trump’s wise enough to go in that direction, or wants to choose someone for their loyalty.
Two friends of Judge Merrick Garland tell NPR’s Carrie Johnson that he loves being a judge and he intends to remain on the bench.
This comes after word that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell recommended Garland to President Trump as a candidate for FBI director.
Nice try, though.
Update: You know who agrees with McConnell, Tillis, and Graham about Cornyn not being right for the moment? John Cornyn:
Sen. John Cornyn has taken himself out of consideration to be the next F.B.I. director, he informed President Donald Trump’s administration Tuesday.
The Texas Republican said in a statement that the best place for him to serve is in the Senate.
“Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI Director,” Cornyn said. “I’ve informed the Administration that I’m committed to helping them find such an individual, and that the best way I can serve is continuing to fight for a conservative agenda in the U.S. Senate.”
Is that a Door #1 position or Door #2?